Letters to the press

Waltham Forest Guardian

I am puzzled that Walthamstow Labour MP Stella Creasy seems to believe that David Watson’s concern for justice for Palestine is a form of “bigotry” inconsistent with membership of “a party campaigning for social justice” (New Row on Antisemitism, WF Guardian, May 5).

Throughout the ongoing witch hunt in the Labour Party – gleefully stoked by Conservatives joining hands with Labour opponents of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – allegations of antisemitism which are mostly distorted or even fabricated have targeted supporters of the campaign against Israel’s colonial settlement of Palestine.

As a Jewish Labour Party member in neighbouring Chingford and Woodford Green, I see nothing antisemitic in any of the Facebook posts cited in your report. Many Jews would agree with Mr Watson that Zionism is a racist ideology and that the Palestinian people have the right to resist the illegal occupation of their land.

These are subjects which we should all be free to debate without being hounded out of any democratic political organisation – above all one that claims to be “campaigning for social justice.”

From Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Woodford Green, Essex

Labour and anti-Semitism – the smear campaign explained…

Camden New Journal, 19 May, 2016

• FOR the past three months the Labour Party has been hit by allegations that anti-Semitism is widespread among its members.

This smear campaign lacks any basis in evidence that a significant problem exists or that it has increased recently.

Nevertheless the smears have gained the collusion of numerous Labour Party politicians, especially London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan, as well as Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, as in his letter thanking constituents (New Journal, May 21).

The smear campaign has been jointly promoted by pro-Israel groups, the mass media and Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies, both outside and inside the Labour Party, seeking to undermine his leadership. The campaign began in mid-February when Alex Chalmers resigned as chair of Oxford University’s Labour Club, claiming that  the party had “some kind of problem with Jews”, as widely reported in the mass media.

As it turned out, he had previously worked for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), a central agency of the Israel lobby.

Within the Labour Party the campaign is driven by the so-called Jewish Labour Movement, really the UK section of the Israel Labour Party, a party supporting the Occupation of Palestine.

As a consistent feature, the smears conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Israel or pro-boycott views.

The Labour Party has suspended more than 60 members, many of them long-time anti-racist activists, on the basis of vague allegations or for comments which are not anti-Semitic. For example, Naz Shah MP retweeted a sarcastic map from Norman Finkelstein’s website.

And Ken Livingstone noted the collusion between the early Nazi regime and the World Zionist Organisation, as documented in its own archives and by several Jewish historians.

To counter the smear campaign, labour movement activists have formed a new network, “Free Speech on Israel, Jews and friends who say that anti-Zionism is not anti- Semitic”.  We issued a statement: Labour Jews assert, the Labour Party has no “problem with Jews”, along with a model motion for branches of the Labour Party and trade unions.

Please look at our website and put our motion to your branch.

Free Speech on Israel, NW5

Anti-Zionism does not equate to antisemitism

(This letter was submitted to the Guardian after a earlier version was rejected by the Daily Telegraph, despite multiple signatures including those of Mike Leigh, Michael Rosen and Miriam Margolyes.)

Guardian, 10 May 2016

In his Daily Telegraph article on which you report (Chief rabbi: Labour has severe problem with antisemitism, theguardian.com, 4 May), Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the antisemitism crisis engulfing Labour had “lifted the lid” on bigotry.

He joins in the sensationalist allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, where the headlines’ decibel level is in inverse proportion to the evidence supporting them. Ignoring the more serious anti-Muslim racism in electoral politics, Rabbi Mirvis attacks the Labour party by launching a defence of Zionism which turns it from a political ideology (that can be supported or opposed) into a religion that is beyond question. We British Jews reject this categorically.

Mirvis attacks as “antisemitic” those who separate Judaism from Zionism. Yet most Jews who perished in the Holocaust were indifferent to Zionism and many opposed it. In the last municipal elections in Europe’s largest Jewish community, in Poland, just before the second world war, Poland’s Jews voted overwhelmingly for the secular, anti-Zionist, socialists of the Bund, while Zionist parties got derisory votes. Is Rabbi Mirvis recasting those victims of the Holocaust posthumously as enemies of Judaism and therefore as antisemites?
George Abendstern
Seymour Alexander
Julia Bard
Sue Bard
Graham Bash
Craig Berman
Rica Bird
Haim Bresheeth
Elizabeth Carola
Linda Clair
Jim Cohen
Norman Crane
Wendy Crane
Judith Cravitz
Mike Cushman
Ivor Dembina
Stephen Deutsch
Mark Elf
Thomas Eisner
Nancy Elan
Liz Elkind
Pia Feig
Deborah Fink
Kenny Fryde
Carolyn Gelenter
Claire Glasman
Sarah Glynn
David Gordon
Helen Gordon
May Gordon
Tony Greenstein
Jan Hardy
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Marion Hersh
Lorraine Huddle
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Michael Kalmanovitz
Roisin Kalmanovitz
Richard Kuper
Pam Laurance
Leah Levane
Mike Leigh
Rachel Lever
Rosalind Levy
Les Levidow
Susanne Levin
Barrie Levine
Sue Lieberman
Yosefa Loshitzky
Ruth London
Catherine Lyons
Moshe Machover
Henry Maitles
Beryl Maizels
Miriam Margolyes
Helen Marks
John McArdle
Martine Miel
Mica Nava
Diana Neslen
Esther Neslen
Susan Pashkoff
Juliet Peston
Roland Rance
Frances Rifkin
Leon Rosselson
Michael Rosen
David Rosenberg
Jonathan Rosenhead
Maureen Rothstein
Ian Saville
Alexei Sayle
Amanda Sebesteyn
Glyn Secker
Suzanne Senior
Roger Silverman
Vanessa Stilwell
Inbar Tamari
David Turner
Philip Wadler
Jackie Walker
Naomi Wayne
Sam Weinstein
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Ben Young
Aliya Yule

Labour, antisemitism and where Jeremy Corbyn goes from here

Guardian, 29 April 2016

We are Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party and of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, who wish to put our perspective on the “antisemitism” controversy that has been widely debated in the last few weeks (Labour’s antisemitism crisis as Livingstone suspended, 29 April). We do not accept that antisemitism is “rife” in the Labour party. Of the examples that have been repeated in the media, many have been reported inaccurately, some are trivial, and a very few may be genuine examples of antisemitism. The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism. We, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues.

We believe these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week. As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties. We dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community. We urge others, who may be confused or worried by recent publicity, to be sure that the Labour party, under its present progressive leadership, is a place where Jews are welcomed in a spirit of equality and solidarity.

Kate Adams, Julia Bard, Labina Basit, Shereen Benjamin, Rica Bird, Jenny Bloom, Alice Bondi, Elizabeth Carola, Ron Cohen, Judith Cravitz, Dave Curtis, Miriam E David, Sue Dellett, Ivor Dembina, Professor Stephen Deutsch, Merave Devere, Shlomit Ferguson, Mark Findlay, Hava Fleming, Dr William Fleming, Roisin Francis, Kenneth Fryde, Lynda Gilbert, Clare Glasman, Alex J Goldhill, Adam Goodkin, Stuart Goodman, Tony Graham, Tony Greenstein, Michele Hanson, Rosamine Hayeem, Abe Hayeem, Jane Henriques, Lorraine Hershon, Becka Seglow Hudson, Selma James, Saul Jamuels, Riva Joffe, Michael Kalmanovitz, David Kaye, Richard Kuper, Pam Laurance, Leah Levane, Rachel Lever, Sue Lukes, Eli Machover, Beryl Maizels, Miriam Margolyes, Stephen Marks, Helen Marks, Karen Merkel, Charles Shaar Murray, Professor Mica Nava, Diana Neslen, Bracha Newman, Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, Susan Pashkoff, Rina Picciotto, Caroline Raine, Roland Rance, Frances Rifkin, Dr Brian Robinson, Denise Robson, Jeff Daniel Rollin, David Rosenberg, Jonathan Rosenhead, Stephen Sands, Dr Ian Saville, Amanda Sebastyen, Glyn Secker, Elizabeth Segal, Lynne Segal, Ray Sirotkin, Steve Tiller, Ray Sirotkin, Inbar Tamari, Tirza Waisel, Sam Weinstein, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Benjamin Young, Gill Yudkin, Professor John Yudkin

First Muslim woman to lead UK’s students welcomed by Jewish community

Independent, 25 April 2016

Why has the new National Union of Students (NUS) President been targeted by “anti-Semitism” accusations, without any evidence? As a consistent opponent of all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, Malia Bouattia opposes Israel’s racist, illegal occupation of Palestine and supports effective campaigns to end it.

Her accusers have cited her negative comment about the University of Birmingham as “a Zionist outpost”, which is a political category like any other – and so irrelevant to religion or anti-Semitism. Indeed, the false equation ‘Jewish = Zionist’ comes from Israel’s supporters, not from the Palestine solidarity movement.

Malia Bouattia’s election as the first Muslim woman to head the NUS should be celebrated for bringing together resistance to class, racial, religious, gender and neocolonial oppression. Instead, she has been subjected to attacks that mirror those made against the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Israel is no longer believed when denying responsibility for its crimes against Palestinians, so now its supporters resort to silencing opposition to those crimes with blanket allegations of anti-Semitism. In both the NUS and Labour Party, the right wing loses its control over an organisation and then attempts to destabilise it, regardless of the damage done.

As mainly Jewish signatories, we congratulate Malia on her election.

Mike Cushman, Tony Greenstein, Deborah Fink, Les Levidow, Jenny Hardacre, Eleanor Kilroy, Richard Kuper, Leah Levane, Rachel Lever, Helen Marks, Jonathan Rosenhead, Ian Saville, Amanda Sebestyen, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi 

Zionism, racism and the new NUS president Malia Bouattia

Guardian, 25 April 2016

The comment by the president of Birmingham University Jewish Society that “when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand” (Jewish students call for apology from head of NUS for ‘past rhetoric’, 22 April) makes a totally invalid equation. Zionism is a political project that indeed has the support of many Jews and some, particularly evangelical, Christians. But it has to be recognised as a political project and therefore must be open to criticism and opposition by both Jews and others. It cannot be regarded as beyond reproach. Such an approach would place it in a position similar to Communism within China: a state shibboleth that you risk prison to criticise.

It is also a mistake to believe that we cannot criticise Judaism as a religion. All religions must be open to scrutiny if they buttress patriarchy, homophobia, gross inequality, child exploitation or racism – as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and all others have been known to do.

What we must be vigilant about, and firmly opposed to, is the demonisation of Jews as Jews. Antisemitism must be excised, as must all forms of racism. The struggle against antisemitism is not helped by such deliberate obfuscation as that presented by Birmingham J-Soc.
Mike Cushman
Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

The election of the first black woman as president of the NUS should be a matter for celebration, not recrimination. The fact that she is a secular, anti-racist Muslim should be an extra cause for joy.

It is a matter of regret that some Jewish students have put themselves alongside the tabloid press in their attacks on Malia Bouattia. I say some Jewish students, because those who are not Zionists or supporters of the Israeli state will not have signed their open letter.

Newspapers like the Mail and Express, which campaigned against the admittance of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, are now to the fore in attacking Malia. Their reasons are just as specious as when they were attacking the Jewish radicals of the East End in the last century. Malia stands, though she may not realise it, in the tradition of Rudolph Rocker, Aron Lieberman and the Jewish anarchists.

Malia has nothing to apologise for. Zionism is a political not a racial or ethnic category. That is why Jews have always been in the forefront of opposing this racist ideology. Her reference to Birmingham University being a “Zionist outpost” is no different than if someone was to refer to Sussex University as a radical or socialist outpost.

Let us hope that the Guardian can find it in it to welcome her election rather than joining in with the tabloid hue and cry.
Tony Greenstein

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